This early picture was taken August 10, 1894, a little more than a year after Central Station opened April 17, 1893. Built at a cost of 1.2 million dollars, it featured the largest trainshed in the world at the time , measuring 140 by 610 feet. The waiting room had an elevated balcony which overlooked the lake. The station was set on long pilings driven into the soft soil which had been lake bed until it was filled with debris from the Chicago Fire of 1871.
This view from one of the upper floors of Central Station gives a bird's eye view of the trainshed (left) and the Commissary Building (center). In the Commissary the food was prepared for all the dining, cafe and lounge cars on the trains. Horse drawn wagons can be seen unloading provisions on the right side of the building.
This aerial photograph was probably taken in the early 1950's. The building with the large "Green Diamond" sign was the Annex Building, built in 1903, and housed some of the railroads offices. Connected to the Annex by a walkway was the Dowie Building which also housed offices and was purchased by the railroad in 1907. It originally stood across Roosevelt Road. When Roosevelt Road was widened in 1923, the building was jacked up and moved across the street using a system of rollers and rails. During the time it took the building to be jacked up and moved, the utilities were maintained to the building and the employees continued to work.
Another bird's eye photo a number of years later shows some of the changes fifty or sixty years had brought to the station. The steam engines are gone, as are the horse drawn wagons. The worlds largest trainshed is gone, replaced around 1945. Soldier Field now stand where lake used to be.
In 1952, the Illinois Central was running some 19 trains a day out of Central Station. As late as 1962, the IC had 11 daily departures. The last Illinois Central train leaving Central Station was on April 30, 1971, when the Panama Limited made it's last run as an Illinois Central train. On May 1, 1971, Amtrak was launched. This photo was probably taken sometime in the 1960's and is quite possibly train #4, the Louisiane arriving from New Orleans.
On March 6, 1972, Amtrak moved its remaining trains, The City of New Orleans, James Whitcomb Riley, Shawnee, Illini and Campus from Central Station to Union Station. The last train from Central Station was the Campus which left at 6:30 PM, March 5, 1972. Even though all passenger service to and from Central Station had been abandoned, the General Offices of the IC remained open. In 1973, the decision was made to move the offices at Central Station as well as the communication and computer operation at 1219 S. Michigan Avenue and the Accounting Department at 63rd Street to new quarters at Two Illinois Center at 233 N Michigan Ave. which was owned by the IC's (now the ICG) parent company, IC Industries.
The move itself was accomplished during the winter of 1973-1974. The Central Station complex, including the Annex, Dowie Building and 1219 S. Michigan Ave., were demolished in 1974. This is a picture of the last structure to be razed, the clock tower.
Many of the facts on this page were derived from "Limiteds Along the Lakefront" by Alan R. Lind, published by the Transport History Press, Park Forest, Il. 60466.
See also "End of the line for Central Station" article from May 1972 Illinois Central Magazine